Saturday, January 07, 2006

Summer Lovin'

Relations are dreadful between Russia and Georgia now, but we all know that geopolitics rarely filters down to the level of personal relationships. And nothing short of full-on invasion, I think, would sour things between Georgian men and Russian women. Ask any Georgian man, and he'll proudly tell you how Russian women just love Georgian men. In the Russian imagination, the Georgians are these somewhat wild, romantic, hot-headed, dark southerners who are quick to fight and can drink like elephants and who are a bit mad when it comes to love. There's a wrong-side-of-the-tracks appeal, as far as I can tell, and during the Soviet times everyone would come to the seaside in Georgia for their vacations, so generations of Russian women cherish the memory of a seaside summer romance with some Georgian boy.

I just heard the loveliest story about just such a summer romance.

Some years ago, Dato was in Yalta for his holidays. Yalta, of course, is teeming with Russian and Ukrainian girls and so Dato was enjoying himself very much. One night, at a Yalta club, he spotted the most beautiful Russian girl. He watched her for a little while, and noticed that she seemed to be there at the club with an older woman, perhaps in her fifties. Nevertheless, as soon as the older woman left her side, Dato came to start speaking with her.

They had a nice conversation, and it turned out that the older woman was her aunt, who was escorting her on this trip, and that they had just arrived in Yalta that very afternoon. Dato also had only just arrived in Yalta, and so, exercising his Georgian charm, he told her that they must absolutely stay up and walk outside so that they could watch their first Yalta sunrise together. He could see in her eyes that she wanted to, but she said that she must ask her aunt first. She left to ask and came back with bad news. "I'm sorry," she said, "but my aunt feels that it's already so late and we've been traveling all day and it's best if we just go to bed now."

Dato was not ready to let her go so easily. He asked if he could try speaking with the aunt himself, and try to persuade her to let her niece see the sunrise with him. The girl said yes, of course he could try.

So Dato approached the aunt and told her that he was a trustworthy character, that he would look after her niece, that there was nothing for her to worry about and that he just wanted to spend a little more time with her. The aunt stopped him suddenly.

"Are you Georgian?" she asked. Dato looks Georgian, and he has a bit of an accent in Russian.

"Yes I am," he replied.

"And what is your name?"

"Dato," he said.

And suddenly this Russian woman was not looking at him at all, exactly, but through him and past him, fixing her gaze on some distant point. Her eyes went soft and she slowly murmured, half to herself, "Dato Chkaidze."

Now of course, Dato's family name is not Chkaidze at all.

That's all the woman said before she turned her eyes back to this present-day Dato, brightly now, and smiled. "Go!" she said, urging him forward to her neice. "Go, you two, and have fun!"

To this day, on occassion at their dinners and celebrations, amidst the toasts to nation and friendship and love, there is very often a toast to Dato Chkaidze, whoever he may be. As for this Dato, he did his very best to pave the way for some future young courting Dato, so that in thirty more years, when the beautiful Russian girl is an aunt or a mother herself, escorting a young girl to the seaside, she has such a memory too.


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